Council covers zoning and debts

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, July 9, 2014
It was a short city council meeting on Tuesday, July 1. The council discussed rezoning, bad debt and gave permission to several upcoming events.

The council held a public hearing and first reading for the rezoning of several lots in West Liberty from "M-2 Heavy Industrial" to "C-2 General Retail."

Specifically, it changes the zoning for Active Health Chiropractic, the new Feldman Performance Fitness Center and BWC Farms. Their current zoning is meant for larger more industrial complexes.

The new zoning, when finally approved after a third reading, is meant for smaller retail outlets, putting the businesses in line with city code.

No community members were present for the public hearing, so the council moved onto a first reading that amends the zoning map for 1103, 1107 and 1115 North Elm Street.

According to the ordinance the city would like to "match the zoning of the property to the use of the property and allow further development of the lot."

The city believes this will help encourage development for business in town and prevent overcrowding of the land.

A second reading of the new zoning ordinance will be held at the council meeting on July 15.

Next, the council approved sending $4,570.44 in bad debt to the Income Offset program, which the city recently began using earlier this year.

The program takes the names and social security numbers of those who still owe on overdue bills to West Liberty and pays off their debt from the individual's Iowa income tax refund or their winnings from the Iowa state lottery and casinos to cover the debt.

"It's a process, once [the program] finds a match on a name then they'll email me," said Utility Billing Clerk Mayra Esquivel. "What I have to do is I have to write a letter notifying them that they have 15 days to either come in and pay this amount off, or set up a contract saying that they are going to pay this amount off."

Once contacted the individual is given another chance to pay off the overdue bills, that way the debt isn't taken from their tax refunds or Iowa lottery winnings, but if they refuse or don't respond then she tells the program to retrieve the debt.

So far the city has tracked down the money to pay off three overdue bills. It's a constant process that doesn't bring in thousands of dollars a day, but over a long period of time.

Bad debt is debt that accrues on utility bills after a resident cannot be contacted, usually because he or she has moved out of town. Sometimes a resident will move without paying his or her final utility bill because the city didn't read the meter until he or she left.

Often, residents will build up large utility bills and then skip out of town without paying them. Because the city will not turn off utilities when temperatures fall below 20 degrees, they build up a majority of their debt during the winter.

Before the program the city tried to collect the debt itself, but was unsuccessful. During the meeting the council still had to write off an additional $3,002.51 in bad debt that could not be collected.

This was from people who left town with bad debt but not enough information to track them down.

However, West Liberty has begun collecting more info, including social security numbers, in order to prevent this from happening.

Finally, the council approved the routes for several upcoming events. July is a busy time in West Liberty, with the fair parade, the Muscatine County Fair and Fun Run 5k Run/Walk.

The fair parade, which will be held on Sunday, July 13, at 2 p.m. will follow the usual route as it kicks off the annual Muscatine County Fair.

The parade begins at the fairgrounds heading east on First Street, goes north on Calhoun Street, turns west on Maxson Avenue then south on Elm Street. After connecting up with Prairie Street it ends at the fairgrounds.

As usual the community is invited to Picnic in the Park in Kimberly Park after the parade, where several vendors will sell food and Kimberly Park will hold free swimming.

The council also approved the route for the 17th annual Fun Run 5k Run/Walk to be held earlier on the same day, July 13, at 8 a.m.

Starting at the fairgrounds, it proceeds north on Calhoun Street, West onto Third Street, hooks with the Hoover Trail, and turns West onto Maxson Street. After winding around a bit it gets back on Maxson Street then heads south on Calhoun Street eventually ending at the fairgrounds.

In other news…

-The council approved bringing in an interim police chief for two months until the current candidate, unnamed by the council, can take the position full-time on Sept. 1.

West Liberty is currently in the process of bringing in a new police chief. Current City Manager Lawrence McNaul was given the position last year, but left it once he was offered the position of city manager.

-Mayor Hartman swore Elvin Calix into West Liberty's reserve officer program, which City Manager Lawrence McNaul has taken a personal interest in building this last year.

Reserve officers have many of the same responsibilities as a police officer, but a full-time officer must be present and on duty. He joins Pamela Romero, Isaac Sarinana, Maria Lara, Brian Hintermeister, Walter Debock and Kevin Flynn.

-The city council approved the appointments of Josh Gingerich, Katie Lee and Katherine Christensen to the Parks and Recreation Board upon the recommendation of Mayor Hartman.

-The council approved a vendor/voucher claims list in the amount of $74,088.95 with a 3-0 vote, with council member Bill Cline abstaining. It also renewed a cigarette permit for the Dollar General Store.

-A route for St. Joseph Catholic Church's annual Feast of St. Buenaventura was approved, the procession traveled around West Liberty on July 6, stopping several times. The march consisted of parishioners praying the rosary and costumed dancers and drummers. It ended with Mass and a celebration at the fairgrounds.

-Mayor Hartman informed the council that the annual employee appreciation picnic will be held on July 18. Held at Kimberly Park, it will correspond with the kick off of the fair, giving city employees the afternoon off from work.
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